Massachusetts guard Derrick Gordon (2) raises his arms to the crowd as he and Chaz Williams (3) heads off the court after they beat George Mason 88-87 in an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, in Fairfax, Va. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
FAIRFAX, Va. — Another Atlantic 10 game, another crazy come-from-behind victory for the 16th-ranked University of Massachusetts men’s basketball team.
With UMass trailing by a point, Chaz Williams stole the ball from George Mason’s Sherrod Wright with 12 seconds left in front of the Minuteman bench and took off toward the basket. He thought he was fouled as he put up an awkward shot that only hit the backboard. The rebound bounced off a hand and a head before caroming right to Derrick Gordon, who was crashing the boards from the right side. The sophomore laid in the rebound to give UMass the lead with 8.2 seconds left.
George Mason never got a last shot off as Maxie Esho stripped Bryon Allen and the Minutemen hung on for an 88-87 win Wednesday at the Patriot Center.
“I just have a nose for the ball,” said Gordon, who had a game-winning overtime putback against Providence. “It was right place, right time. It just happened to fall into my hands once again.”
Williams said winning these games was the mark of a team in the middle of a special run.
“Not too many teams win games down five with 41 seconds left,” Williams said. “It was tough. Coach did a great job calling the right plays and timeouts when we needed them. ... Luckily D.G. is always in the right place at the right time.”
That Gordon was even in the game, let alone the right place at the right time, seemed unlikely midway through the second half. Heading in for a breakaway layup with 10:13 left, he was taken down hard by Patrick Holloway from behind.
He immediately grabbed his back, cried out in pain and stayed on the floor for a few minutes. When Gordon eventually got up, he and trainer Dave Maclutsky went to the UMass locker room.
“When the fall happened I didn’t know if I was going to come back or not,” Gordon said. “I’m a tough player. I was more worried about trying to get back in there and help the team out.
He returned with 6:46 left in the game and finished with 10 points.
The Minutemen played from behind for most of the second half. They trailed 67-59 with 11:38 left, but used a 9-1 run to tie the game 68-68 with 8:08 remaining.
George Mason counterpunched with an 8-2 surge that gave it momentum and a 76-70 lead with 6:03 left.
But the pendulum kept swinging. UMass scored nine straight points capped by a Trey Davis 3-pointer to pull ahead 77-76, but GMU scored the next five before Cady Lalanne’s jumper tied the game at 81-81 with 1:59 remaining.
After a missed 3 by the Patriots, Williams drove into traffic trying to put UMass ahead. He either tripped or slipped, but no whistle blew and he lost the ball. A George Mason fast break led to a three-point play by Allen on Lalanne’s fifth foul that put GMU up 84-81 with 1:02 left.
The Minutemen looked sunk when Davis missed a game-tying 3-pointer and Wright (26 points) made two free throws on Raphiael Putney’s fifth foul to make it 86-81 with 42 seconds left.
Mason seemed content to let UMass get layups and avoid giving up a 3-pointer and Williams was happy to take them. He scored with 36 seconds left to make it 86-83 and after Allen made just one of two free throws, Williams scored again to make it 87-86 with 26 seconds left.
Wright then stepped on the sideline trying to inbound the ball and again Williams got to the basket to bring UMass within one at 87-86 setting up the final sequence.
“Every once in a great while you pull out a win where everything falls into place in a stretch run,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, who began his coaching career as an assistant at George Mason. “Mason played a heck of a game. They played really well. We got a little lucky there at the end. Sometimes luck is something you need. Our guys made some big plays and we came away with a big road victory. ... I’m proud of them. That was one of the more special wins I’ve had as a coach because of how it came down. This is a special group, a special team.”
Williams showed few signs of the foot/ankle injury that threatened his playing status. The senior point guard had 26 points and eight assists. Lalanne added 19 points, many while double-teamed, and nine rebounds.
UMass (15-1, 3-0 Atlantic 10) will step out of conference play for the last time on Saturday when they play at Elon at 7 p.m.
GMU (7-10, 0-3) is still winless as a member of the Atlantic 10.